Date of Award

5-10-2014

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Honors Thesis

Department

Modern Languages

First Advisor

Paul Kanczuzewski

Abstract

The role a just God ought to have in the struggle for sociopolitical liberation has frustrated theologians for centuries; in the twentieth century, Latin American theologians proposed that while God loves all people, God unequivocally sides with the poor in the fight for social justice, and so should the church. The relative success of this teaching in Latin American churches led to increased participation of the laity in the fight for democracy. This project will analyze liberation theology's efficacy as the motivation for social justice in Latin America, focusing on the writing of Leonardo Boff (a Brazilian theologian) and the history of social movements which came from liberation theology's affiliated movements in Brazil and Cuba. I find that liberation theology's strongest remnant lies in its pervasive grassroots presence in Latin America, in spite of backlash from the Vatican.

Liberation theology's genesis as a Catholic theology proved to common people that the church was interested in radical reconciliation with oppressed social groups, such as the impoverished, Afro- Latino, and indigenous. New teachings about the significance of Jesus lent Christianity contemporary political significance instead of promoting escapism. Boff viewed Jesus as a historical figure whose teachings had contemporary relevance for an earthly utopian society. Looking at Jesus's life and message thus led church members to seek justice as no longer merely an element of salvation but central to the message of Christ. Social justice was defined as any activity that placed members of society on equal footing, a teaching that fostered the creation of base communities that came together independently of priests to discuss theology and strategies for social change. Such communities were widely seen as the outpouring of the Spirit of God on Latin American churches.

Though its adherents did not necessarily achieve their original goals, they did much to promote democratic activity in rural Brazil, made possible the survival of the church in Cuba, and ultimately fostered reconciliation across Latin America's bloody history and segregated social classes, reconciliation which exists to this day.